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Inside Politics

Parties pursue elusive youth vote

Correspondents offer analyses as Republican convention ends

Editor's Note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the colleges mentioned in this article.
Campus Vibe
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- Republicans and Democrats are paying increased attention to young voters this election season, as President Bush and Sen. Kerry continue to be virtually tied in many polls.

Figures from both sides have already appeared on MTV and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," and The Associated Press reports that Republicans and Democrats plan to expand campus activities during the fall campaign.

The Bush and Kerry children took center stage at the party conventions to show the candidates' "hipper" side, while musicians have used their popularity to encourage registration among young voters.

In 2000, exit polls showed 48 percent of voters under 30 supported Al Gore, and 46 percent voted for Bush. More recently, a Pew Research Center poll showed 53 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 support Kerry, while 35 percent back Bush.

The Pew survey interviewed 1,512 adults August 5 to 10. It had a margin of error of three percentage points.

-- Tal Mekel, Campus Vibe editor

With the conclusion of this week's Republican convention, Campus Vibe correspondents offered analyses of what students at their schools are thinking on three election topics:

  • Response to Bush
  • Political TV ads
  • Candidates' military service
  • Response to Bush

    Although both campaigns have attempted to turn the race into a multi-issue affair, for many University of Missouri students, the election is more a referendum on the war in Iraq than a presidential election. And while the Bill Clinton campaign's mantra that "it's the economy, stupid" might still apply to older voters, it is the war and not the tax cuts that are generating the most frequent and most heated debate between students on campus. Bush supporters were a largely quiet force during the Democratic primaries but have significantly increased their presence throughout the spring and summer, setting the stage for frequent discussion between the two sides, which seem to have similar influence on students.

    -- Chris Blank, University of Missouri Campus Vibe correspondent

    Although President Bush has visited many of Nebraska's neighbors, the state has not been on his campaign trail and it is doubtful he will visit Nebraska or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before November. Because Nebraska does not have a significant pull in the election and is primarily Republican, the state isn't the focus of either candidate's campaign. But UNL Republican students respond well to issues Bush promotes, especially tax breaks and social issues, such as the Constitutional marriage amendment, the ban on so-called partial-birth abortions and restrictions on stem cell research. Students who back the war in Iraq tend to favor Bush. UNL students have friends, family or acquaintances who have served or are being deployed to the Middle East. The war in Iraq could be the deciding factor for students.

    -- Amber Brozek, University of Lincoln-Nebraska Campus Vibe correspondent


    The political climate at American University may be a microcosm of the overall national sentiment -- divided. Bush supporters, many members of the College Republicans, AU's largest student organization, call for four more years while Democratic students are optimistic about Kerry's promise that "Help is on the way." Critics of Bush argue his focus is limited to the war on terror and moral issues. Meanwhile he evades issues such as the ailing economy and the Iraq war. For some undecided voters, the complexities at home and abroad are too great for a black-and-white approach. Consequently, the election becomes more about choosing a candidate whose policies are the appropriate shades of gray.

    -- Kerry-Ann Hamilton, American University Campus Vibe correspondent


    There are strong opinions on both sides of the choice for president: Those who plan to vote for Bush said they admire him because of his strong character and his unwavering positions on various issues. As a whole, they like the way he is handling the war in Iraq. Those who do not support Bush say they find him unintelligent and too involved with special interest groups. They do not like the way he is handling the war in Iraq, and feel that he often mixes religion with politics.

    -- Gina Goodhill, University of Southern California Campus Vibe correspondent

    Political TV ads


    Political advertisements for either candidate, positive or negative, don't influence most students at New York University. They rely on the traditional news media and the Internet to get information and don't put much stock in the credibility of political ads. Among this highly politically active student body, many have either made up their minds already, or view each side's advertising as propaganda and discount it out of hand. The controversy surrounding the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads has only further damaged the credibility of political advertising among students.

    -- Ryan Hagen, New York University Campus Vibe correspondent


    Portland Community College students say ads for candidates market the wrong messages. Glynis Irwin, a general studies major, says, "[The ads] are manufactured smokescreens for two candidates who aren't willing to talk about today's issues." Although TV ads may seem an effective way for presidential hopefuls to feed their messages to younger voters, students aren't biting. "It's like watching a Coors Light commercial," says Laura Sensenig, who studies medical sonography at the Sylvania campus. "Just because you see it doesn't mean you're going to buy it." Some PCC students say the propaganda won't affect the younger voters' decision to elect Kerry or re-elect Bush since, they believe, most people have already decided.

    -- Christy Moorehouse, Portland Community College Campus Vibe correspondent


    Many students at Michigan State University are turned off by the mudslinging ad campaigns sponsored by advocates of both candidates. The biased messages presented by such groups generate contempt rather than interest. The fact that many students here already have a good idea of whom they will vote for only solidifies the relative uselessness of TV advertisements.

    -- Dirk VanderHart, Michigan State University Campus Vibe correspondent


    Lynn Scofield, a sophomore, hasn't noticed much political ad activity in Texas. "I guess because it's Texas everyone assumes that we'll vote for Bush so no one spends any money on ads here," she said. Scofield says the ads attacking candidates are a routine part of an election. Advertisements attacking candidates funded by 527 groups are "ridiculous" to Jeffery Patton, a junior. "I think for young voters who haven't experienced other campaigns, these attack ads will seem reasonable and acceptable," Patton said. "I think that the dirty tactics taken by these 527s are going to bring about a new breed of campaigns that will just get dirtier and dirtier." Chris Carlin, a senior, thinks that the influence the media has had on this election is growing, and overshadowing the impact of political ads. "It's almost as if the news sources from CNN to ABC have been running their own race on top of the normal activity that goes on," Carlin said. "We've seen the super hyping of Howard Dean, the super hyping of 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' the downplaying of a strong economy and a skewing of presidential messages such as those regarding reasons for going to war."

    -- Sonia Moghe, Texas A&M University Campus Vibe correspondent

    Candidates' military service


    Military service will be important to some young voters this November, but it is highly unlikely that service alone will swing a large share of the youth vote to either Bush or Kerry. Democrats at the University of Florida say that military service will matter in this election, especially since America is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the UF College Republicans disagree, saying Democrats did not consider military service an accolade when former President Clinton was campaigning. If Bush's National Guard controversy earlier this year is any indication, Americans will have long forgotten the swift boat veterans' claims, for or against Kerry, by the time the election rolls around.

    -- Dwayne Robinson, University of Florida Campus Vibe correspondent


    Many Emerson students believe military service is important when choosing a president; however, it is not a deciding factor. They would rather focus on issues like health care, the economy and education. While military service is significant, it is not as important as a candidate's political platform. "While military records can be important in determining a potential president's ability to lead others and have a solid decision-making strategy, it is much more important for the candidates to focus on issues," said Nathan Hurst, a sophomore print and multimedia journalism student. "The military records are not going to be a deal-breaker when I'm voting, just another piece of information to consider."

    -- Andrea Gabbidon-Levene, Emerson College Campus Vibe correspondent


    Listening to students representing each side rationalize their candidate's personal military record with his present positions, it's increasingly clear that the context surrounding that record is what matters, far more than the record itself. Kerry's anti-war activities, for example -- performed as they were as a combat veteran and often in uniform -- seem to count as an extension of his Navy career, a predictable plus among Democrats and a no-surprise liability among Republicans. Students identifying themselves as Republican, meanwhile, are quick to point out that Bush's time as commander in chief counts as military experience, citing Ronald Reagan as an example of a president who, though he served as an actor during World War II, proved himself as a war-time leader against the Soviet Union. Ultimately, with opinion so strongly divided, neither side is slow to spin anything their candidate did or said. Military service is no exception.

    -- Spencer Willig, University of Pennsylvania Campus Vibe correspondent

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